Last weekend The Lion King dominated the box office. Blame a sleepy September for a reissue throttling the marketplace, and parents who were happy to take their kids to see a film they grew up on (how’s that for a circle of life?) The question with reissues is always if it’s going to behave like a special event and evaporate quickly, or if it plays like a normal kids film Surely Moneyball – the long-in-development picture now starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill – would rather not have to take on such big numbers with their smaller film. The same goes for Dolphin Tale, Killer Elite or Abduction.

Moneyball has the presence and cast of an Oscar contender, but not the release date. Having screened at Toronto’s International Film Festival, the film’s coming out with a “good not great” reputation. Which is where the tomato-meter of Rotten Tomatoes can be very misleading. But solid should be enough for the film to perform modestly, if not memorably. Brad Pitt in star mode can launch a picture, and Jonah Hill is liked but not necessarily much of a draw – especially in a drama. But if this finds an audience, it could play long – sports pictures often do – but this has that academy appeal and may not speak to the people who love sports.

It may be challenged by the Twi-hards who might flock to Abduction. This is Taylor Lautner‘s big chance to prove he’s a star outside of the Twilight franchise, but the word on the picture is that it’s a career-ender. Seriously. It’s supposed to be miserable as a movie, laughably bad. How bad you say? The film is called Abduction, and I’ve heard it doesn’t actually feature any abducting. When Robert Pattinson tried to branch out with Remember Me the numbers weren’t that great, and Kristen Stewart has been working steadily and none of her pictures have received much of a Twilight bump. Since it took a while for Lautner to go out on his own, perhaps this may get a little boost from it being his first real solo effort, but even then….

Dolphin Tale reunites Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd in a film that is not a thriller. Perhaps it helped financing, but as a kids film it would be in much better shape if The Lion King wasn’t the kids film of September. Look, money’s tight in America, and when people have to make a choice for their weekend’s entertainment, they’ll probably go with the thing they know better – a Disney classic. If word is good the film might save itself, but it should do Soul Surfer numbers if it finds a similar off-season audience.

David Poland once talked about the “geek eight”, what if there’s an “action eleven?” Poland’s theory was that a poorly marketed (or Comic-con marketed) film aimed squarely at geeks opens to around eight. Last weekend we saw Drive do around eleven, and The MechanicJason Statham‘s other action film this year – opened to around eleven. We thought the picture was not that good, but the star power fo Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro may be just enough to get this to that near-eleven number. Likely the film will do much more business internationally – or at least that’s the hope.

But The Lion King still has some draw, and could have legs. I don’t know if Disney was prepared for the film to do as well as it is, as it’s due on  Blu-ray and DVD reissue in less than two weeks. With a thirty million dollar opening, it’s possible the film could do near a hundred domestic. I underestimated the appeal partly because of the upcoming home video reissue, but there is a draw for films like this in 3-D, and perhaps that’s a good sign for the upcoming 3-D releases of The Phantom Menace, Top Gun and Titanic. But the cultural legacy of The Lion King seems stronger because of the parent appeal. We shall see on that one.

So for the weekend, let’s guestimate:

  1. Moneyball – $19.8 Million
  2. The Lion King – $16.7 Million
  3. Abduction – $13.9 Million
  4. Dolphin Tale – $13.5 Million
  5. Killer Elite – $11 Million

This is fairly spread out for fall releases, so it’s possible some of these numbers might be lower just because of sports, and a general sense that now’s not a great time to go to the theater. If Lion King trumps Moneyball I wouldn’t be surprised.